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Collusion murder coverup { April 18 2003 }

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The report
Collusion, murder and cover-up

After 14 years, three inquiries, and 144 arrests, Met chief finally delivers verdict on security forces

Friday April 18, 2003
The Guardian

Edited text of the Stevens inquiry report


I have carried out three inquiries into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. These began nearly 14 years ago. I intend publishing these recommendations whilst allowing the specific criminal investigations to continue. These will be submitted to the director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland (DPPNI).

Terms of reference

In May 1999, following a letter from the DPPNI to the then chief constable of the RUC, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, I was asked to re-investigate the murder of Patrick Finucane and allegations of collusion raised by British Irish Rights Watch.

The significance of the role played by an RUC informant, William Stobie, in events surrounding the murder of Patrick Finucane led to two principal, further matters being added to my remit. Firstly I undertook to re-investigate the murder in November 1987 of a young student, Brian Lambert, and secondly to examine the handling of agents.

The publication of this report is later than I had originally hoped. Last November a considerable amount of additional documentation from the Ministry of Defence, giving rise to several new and major lines of inquiry, became available for the first time. I record this late disclosure with considerable disquiet.

Events investigated

The murder of Patrick Finucane

Finucane was murdered in front of his wife and three children in his home on February 12 1989. He was 39 years old and worked as a solicitor in Belfast. Finucane was shot 14 times by two masked gunmen who entered his house in the early evening. The gunmen escaped in a red Ford Sierra driven by an accomplice. The following day the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) claimed responsibility.

Two guns were used in the attack, the majority of shots fired from a 9mm-P Browning. This firearm was recovered approximately five months later. It was found to be one of a number of guns stolen in August 1987 from an Ulster Defence Regiment barracks. It had already been used in an attempted murder a few months before. Five men were arrested in connection with the recovery of the weapon and three were later charged. The second gun, a .38 Special or a .357 Magnum revolver, was later used in another attempted murder in 1991. That weapon has never been recovered.

A number of other suspects were identified and arrested by the RUC but by November 1989 the murder remained unsolved. However in 1990 a journalist, Neil Mulholland, provided new information about the murder from a man claiming to be both a quartermaster for the Ulster Defence Association and an agent of RUC special branch. This man was William Stobie. He also admitted to Mulholland that he had supplied the murder weapon that had killed Brian Lambert.

The murder of Brian Lambert

Lambert had been shot on November 9 1987 at a building site in Belfast. He was a young Protestant student with no criminal record or links to terrorism. It is believed he was mistakenly targeted in revenge for the Remembrance Day bombing at Enniskillen the day before. One man was charged and convicted for the offence of conspiring to murder him.

William Stobie

Stobie was recruited as an agent by RUC special branch in November 1987 following his arrest for the murder of Lambert for which he was released without charge. He was tasked by special branch until 1990 when, as a result of Mulholland's information, he was arrested by the RUC for the Finucane and Lambert murders. Mulholland, however, refused to sign a statement.

As the UDA quartermaster of the West Belfast brigade, Stobie had continued to be involved in the storage and supply of weapons several months after the murder of Finucane. His activities, whilst an agent, indicate his central role in serious offences from at least July 1988 onwards.

It has now been established that before the murder of Finucane, Stobie supplied information of a murder being planned. He also provided significant information to his special branch handlers in the days after the murder. This principally concerned the collection of a firearm. However this vital information did not reach the original murder team.

Stobie was arrested by my third inquiry team and charged with the murder of Finucane and Lambert. The case concluded in November 2001 when the key prosecution witness, Neil Mulholland, failed to give evidence on account of his mental state. Two weeks later Stobie was shot dead.

His murder was claimed by the loyalist terrorist group the Red Hand Defenders. My inquiry team arrested three of the original suspects for the murder of Finucane and nine other men were arrested on suspicion of murder. None of those arrested could be linked forensically to the scene of the Finucane murder. No admissible evidence has been obtained to enable any person to be charged. I believe however that all played a significant role in Finucane's murder or the events surrounding it. Similarly five men were arrested by the inquiry team on suspicion of the murder of Lambert. No one, other than Stobie, has been charged with his murder because of a lack of evidence.

Investigation of agents

My inquiry team also examined the role of agents. In particular it reviewed Stobie's and Brian Nelson's roles in the murder of Finucane. Nelson, an army agent, had been identified as a suspect during my first inquiry. He was charged with 35 serious terrorist offences and later convicted. He was imprisoned for 10 years. Nelson was aware and contributed materially to the intended attack on Finucane. It is not clear whether his role in the murder extended beyond passing a photograph, which showed Finucane and another person, to one of the other suspects.

Nelson was re-arrested and interviewed. There was no new evidence and he was not charged with any further offences.

Brian Nelson's role also raised a number of issues arising from the work of the Force Research Unit (FRU), the army's agent-handling unit in Northern Ireland.

My team investigated allegations made by several former members of the FRU. They reviewed and analysed all material relating to the FRU's operational activity. Twenty former members of the FRU were interviewed and files seeking legal advice in relation to nine of them have been prepared.

Intelligence material

My inquiry team has undertaken the forensic examination of a wealth of material recovered from the loyalist paramilitary groups, particularly that belonging to Nelson. The advance in forensic technology has resulted in identification of 81 people who had left their fingerprints on classified documents that they had no lawful reason to possess. Twenty-seven have been arrested and interviewed. Application of the prosecution test led to six persons being charged and convicted in relation to possession of documents likely to be of use to terrorists.

Other matters concerning collusion

One of the major issues for my inquiry, underpinning virtually all aspects of the individual investigations, was the allegation of widespread collusion between the loyalist paramilitaries, the RUC and army. My inquiry attempted to establish whether Finucane had been threatened by loyalists, or RUC officers, and whether he had made any formal complaint. The absence of any record means that this criminal allegation cannot be substantiated against any RUC officer.

My team also investigated an allegation that senior RUC officers briefed [Home Office minister] Douglas Hogg, that "some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA". Mr Hogg repeated this view in the Commons. Within a few weeks Finucane was murdered. Mr Hogg's comments aroused controversy. To the extent that they were based on information passed by the RUC, they were not justifiable and the inquiry concludes that the minister was compromised.

A further aspect of my inquiry was how the RUC dealt with threat intelligence.

This included examination and analysis of RUC records to determine whether both sides of the community were dealt with in equal measure. They were not.

Obstruction of my inquiries

Throughout my inquiries I recognised that I was being obstructed. This obstruction was cultural in its nature and widespread within parts of the army and the RUC. It was only through the efforts of my team that I was able to identify and arrest Nelson in January 1990. When he was interviewed I discovered that he had been in possession of an "intelligence dump". This had been seized by his FRU handlers when my first inquiry had begun, in September 1989. This evidence had been concealed from my team.

There was a clear breach of security before the planned arrest of Nelson and other senior loyalists. Information was leaked to the loyalist paramilitaries and the press. This resulted in the operation being aborted. Nelson was advised by his FRU handlers to leave home the night before. A new date was set for the operation on account of the leak. The night before the new operation my incident room was destroyed by fire. This incident, in my opinion, has never been adequately investigated and I believe it was a deliberate act of arson.

During my first inquiry I asked to examine particular documents but received written statements that they did not exist. My latest inquiry team has now recovered all these documents. The dates recorded on them show that they all existed at the time of my first request. Much of the effort of this inquiry has had, yet again, to be spent building up its own intelligence database and in so doing discovering that it has not been given a full and proper disclosure.

Following three recent disclosures by the army I am investigating whether the concealment of documents and information was sanctioned and if so at what levels of the organisations holding them. It has been necessary to interview the same witnesses a number of times because of the failure to provide complete information at the first time of asking.


During the course of my three inquiries 9,256 statements have been taken, 10,391 documents recorded (totalling over 1 million pages) and 16,194 exhibits seized.

This has led to 144 arrests. So far 94 persons have been convicted. To date 57 separate reports have been submitted to the DPPNI for his direction. I have uncovered enough evidence to lead me to believe that the murders of Finucane and Lambert could have been prevented. I also believe that the RUC investigation of Finucane's murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers.

I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them. Collusion is evidenced in many ways. This ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the extreme of agents being involved in murder.

The failure to keep records or the existence of contradictory accounts can often be perceived as evidence of concealment or malpractice. It limits the opportunity to rebut serious allegations. The absence of accountability allows the acts or omissions of individuals to go undetected. The withholding of information impedes the prevention of crime and the arrest of suspects. The unlawful involvement of agents in murder implies that the security forces sanction killings.

My inquiries have found all these elements of collusion. The coordination, dissemination and sharing of intelligence were poor. Informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes. Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected. Crucial information was withheld from senior officers. Important evidence was neither exploited nor preserved.


The national intelligence model should be introduced into the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The PSNI should carry out a full review of all their procedures for investigating terrorist offences with a view to establishing a dedicated unit along the lines of the Metropolitan police model.

An assistant chief constable with single responsibility for the anti-terrorist branch should be appointed.

The senior investigating officer of murder and other serious crimes should receive full cooperation and relevant intelligence from special branch particularly where covert human intelligence sources (CHIS), as agents are now known, are suspects for murder or other serious crime.

Any conflict between the investigation of crime and the protection of agents should be managed by the regional assistant chief constable.

Guidelines on the use of CHIS in countering terrorism should be completed as a matter of urgency. A review should be undertaken to ensure that CHIS are only employed to achieve a proportionate coverage of the terrorist threat.

A full review of training for all agent handlers should be introduced, including integrity issues and keeping of records.

A strategy group of all relevant agencies (Gold group) should be formed at the outset of any major investigation to ensure effective intelligence sharing and to respond to community concerns.

All senior officers dealing with terrorist murders must be adequately vetted in order that they can receive and deal with any sensitive intelligence.

An internal investigation department should be established by the PSNI in order that any allegations or suspicions of collusion and corruption can be tackled proactively as well as reactively.

Integrity testing and quality assurance checks should be carried out to ensure that complete confidence is maintained in the security of source intelligence.

The long line of inquiry

Feb 1989 Catholic solicitor Patrick Finucane shot in front of his family by UDA gunmen. Wife Geraldine injured

Aug 1989 UDA defends killing by revealing leaked security force documents

Sept 1989 John Stevens, then deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire, appointed to investigate claims of collusion

Jan 1992 Former soldier Brian Nelson revealed as UDA officer and army agent

1993 Second Stevens inquiry ordered

April 1998 Government rejects UN call for independent inquiry into Finucane murder

April 1999 Third Stevens inquiry, this time into Finucane murder

June 1999 William Stobie charged with Finucane's murder but in November walks free after key witness fails to give evidence. Two months later he is shot dead

April 11 2003 : Brian Nelson dies of a brain haemorrhage

April 17 Sir John Stevens hands over his report on Finucane murder to Northern Ireland chief constable

Belfast spy denies being informer { May 13 2003 }
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Britain condemned on loyalist bombing { December 11 2003 }
Britain detains innocents for IRA bombings
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British agent stakeknife summonsed to high court london
British allowed ira terror attack { April 10 2006 }
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British spy in ira murdered { April 5 2006 }
Collusion murder coverup { April 18 2003 }
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Thatcher ordered paramilitary assasinations { June 23 2002 }
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